(UPDATED 4:25 p.m.) NEW HAVEN — Lawyers on both sides of former governor John G. Rowland’s corruption trial wrapped up their closing arguments Thursday afternoon and left a jury to decide whether Rowland is guilty of conspiring to hide his role in congressional campaigns.
Jurors have listened to weeks of testimony regarding allegations that Rowland conspired to perform political work for two congressional campaigns while keeping the payments hidden from election regulators.
In closing arguments, U.S. Attorney Chris Mattei told the jury that the conspiracy was born of the former governor’s desire to make use of his political expertise.
But that expertise was overshadowed by the negative baggage Rowland carried from his 2004 corruption conviction, which saw him resign from office, Mattei said. On that charge, Rowland was sentenced in 2005 to a year and one day in prison, four months house arrest, and three years probation, and community service.
“Mr. Rowland couldn’t sell his most valuable assets on the open market, but if he could keep it hidden, maybe then he could,” Mattei told the jury. In the process, the conspiracy hid Rowland’s compensation arrangement from election regulators and voters, he said.
“This isn’t just politics. This is about hiding from the public what the public has a right to know,” he said. “You have a right to know certain things about [a candidate] and Mr. Rowland wanted to strip you of that. He didn’t want you to know. He just wanted to get paid.”
Mattei said Rowland drafted a proposal to work for 2010 congressional candidate Mark Greenberg and to be paid as a consultant for Greenberg’s nonprofit animal shelter. That overture was rejected.
Later, Mattei said, Rowland entered into a contract to work on 2012 candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley’s campaign and sought to be paid by a lawyer for her husband, Brian Foley, who owned a chain of nursing homes called Apple Rehab.
“Ask yourself, what was Mr. Rowland selling? Was he selling his business consulting expertise? Was he selling his devotion to an animal center? Or was he selling the thing that was most valuable — his political expertise?” Mattei told the jury.
Reid Weingarten, Rowland’s lead attorney, argued that the former governor’s work for Apple Rehab was completely legitimate. He said Foley was “trying to get John involved in his company” and he only agreed to testify against Rowland after pleading guilty to his own related charges.
Weingarten said Foley “only shifts after [prosecutors] threaten him with all sorts of things.”
Weingarten pointed to business correspondence between Rowland and executives at Apple Rehab. “You can’t be half pregnant. Either this was a fraud or this was real legitimate business,” he said.
“If this was all a sham, all a fake, all BS, why are they bothering?” he asked. Why are they “sending back and forth substantive information about their business?”
Mattei described those communications as part of a cover crafted to hide Rowland’s campaign work and said, “These people aren’t stupid. They know they’re going to have to come into court one day. They’ve got to have something to wave in front of the jury.” He insisted the “whole thing is a sham.”
Mattei presented a slideshow with snippets of the evidence against Rowland. He reminded the jury of what the government contends was a trend by the former governor to make offers to candidates who were political newcomers, but who also were independently wealthy. He pointed to the contract Rowland pitched to Greenberg. “Who is going to pay somebody $35,000 a month to raise money for an animal shelter? Please . . . ” he said.
He showed the jury a slide comparing the 22 emails Rowland had sent to Wilson-Foley prior to his contract with her husband’s company with 321 emails he sent the candidate in the six months after the contract.
“Look at that. That says it all,” Mattei said. “What’s the one thing that happened? The money tap got turned on. That’s what happened.”
Weingarten said it was perfectly legal for Rowland to work for Apple Rehab and volunteer his time for a congressional candidate and close friend. “A significant part of this is they were friends. He wasn’t a beggar to the Foleys. They were friends for 20 years,” he said.
“John wanted to work and he wanted to help a friend get elected. Those were his two motivations and they weren’t ignoble at all,” Weingarten said.
Earlier Thursday, Judge Janet Bond Arterton prepared the jury for deliberations. During a two-hour charge Monday morning, Arterton explained the allegations against the former governor and how to weigh the government’s case against him. She said the prosecution needs to have proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Although Mr. Rowland has been indicted you must remember an indictment is only an accusation. It is not evidence,” she said. “The law presumes the defendant innocent of the charges against him.”
Arterton instructed the jury that a criminal conspiracy can be conducted without it being explicitly stated.
“Since conspiracy is, by its very nature, characterized by secrecy, you may infer its existence . . . by the actions of those involved,” Arterton said.
The jury began deliberations at 3:26 p.m.